Keeping your money in a safe place in Lyon, France
Basic documentation needed to open a bank account
Since there is a very long list of banks in France (including but not limited to Société Générale, BNP Paribas, CIC, LCL, Crédit Agricole, HSBC, ING Direct, Crédit Mutuel…) and what seems like endless possibilities for different accounts, we focus our tips and advice on the basics.
It’ll be up to you and your bank advisor to find the best fit for your needs.
The documents needed to open a bank account are quite simple.
In any case, you will have to present :
- a form of valid ID (either an actual identity card, if you’re coming from the EU, or a passport)
- proof of residency (something with your address and name on it: for example, your last utility bill or a rental agreement).
- For those of you coming to work in France, you will also be asked for a proof of income: a salary slip or an employment contract should do the trick.
- For our readers who would like to study here, you could offer a copy of your student card or school certificate: this isn’t mandatory but it might be of help in order to benefit from certain student advantages when opening an account.
Extra information you should present to banks
Some banks can also require a birth certificate and/or a long-stay visa (or residence permit, something to prove your status).
Basically, the more documents you can bring, the better. This is France, after all: we love official papers.
Note that you may be asked to provide certified translations of certain documents if they aren’t in French or at least in a Latin language, especially when it comes to your passport.
They could also need to be authenticated if you are trying to open an account before your arrival: either by the bank’s local branch, a “correspondent bank” they will select for you, or with a notarized copy/Apostille stamp.
Who can open a bank account in France?
Opening a bank account in France is possible for anyone who is over 18 as well as minors, starting at 16, if they have their legal guardian’s permission or are emancipated.
However, most banks will only accept foreigners if they plan on staying for a certain amount of time (6 months for example).
It is also nearly impossible to open an account if you don’t have a permanent address. Those still looking for a place to stay when they get to France might have a tough time, especially without a job or university enrolment.
However, if you’re staying with someone, it can work: you just need to provide a letter from the person where they confirm you are staying with them, a copy of their ID and their proof of address.
Otherwise, you can always try to offer a reference letter from an employer or a cash guarantee.
Different types of bank accounts according to your situation
Now, on to the various ways you can open an account depending on the circumstances. Non-resident bank accounts do exist but are very difficult to find, often require a minimum deposit amount and they depend on your country of residence.
It is harder for people outside of the EU and especially for Americans because of security measures (more specifically, extra IRS reporting requirements).
Banks that offer these accounts are Crédit Mutuel, Société Générale, BNP and Caisse d’Épargne. You can also look into establishments specifically for foreigners, who provide international service, such as HSBC.
Speaking of, signing up with a bank is always easier and more practical when you can physically go there and talk to someone.
Nonetheless, if you absolutely need to open an account before getting to France, your best bet is online banks such as the ones offered by BNP, Société Générale or la Banque Postale.
They often ask for a French RIB (or Relevé d’Identité Bancaire, which is bank identification information) from another bank, to verify your identity, but it’s worth a try: their fees are much lower.
Once in France, those of you who have moved here with a partner can open a joint bank account.
Just keep in mind that there are two types of joint accounts: [your name] “et” [your partner’s name] or [your name] “ou” [your partner’s name].
The first signifies that both of you must sign a cheque for it to be valid; the second means either one or the other can sign a cheque for it to be valid.
This last one is for those of you who are more technologically advanced than the general population: neobanks.
Bank on your smartphone
This is a fairly new option and only a few of them exist in France, the most well-known one being N26. It is 100% mobile, controlled through an application on your smartphone, which is what differentiates it from online banking.
You get a bank account, a “RIB” and a card, you can take cash out, change your pin, block or unblock your card: all of the usual banking elements but directly from your phone, without having to talk to anyone (a millennial’s dream!). The only difference is that you don’t get a cheque book and can’t be in any debt.
Make sure to go over to our post about opening a mobile line and finding a phone plan in France.
What to do if you were refused a bank account
With all the right documentation, there’s no reason for a bank to deny your application.
However, if it does happen, ask for a letter of refusal. Banks aren’t legally obliged to justify their decision but they do have to give you a letter if you ask for one.
You can then send the letter along with all the right documents to the Banque de France (the public big boss of banks in France) and request a “droit au compte”.
They’ll ask you to fill out this “access to banking services” form and if all goes well, they will designate a bank that is required to accept you.
There you have it, everything you need to know about banking in Lyon. These are all the steps that need to be taken in order to open a bank account in France, as a student or an expatriate. See? Easy. All will be well: take a deep breath, and happy bank hunting!